Did you ever wonder about the origin of trails on National Forest, and who uses, builds and maintains them?
Consider these facts:
All trails are not necessarily "System" trails authorized, signed and maintained by the Forest Service.
On the Red Rock Ranger District, more than 50 miles of unmaintained, unsigned "social" trails exist created by repetitive use of people going cross country.
The Forest Service trail maintenance budget is one tenth of what is needed, and is in decline.
Over 600,000 people use Forest trails in our area each year.
Our world class scenery attracts 1.3 million people from around the globe who come to marvel at, photograph, hike, bike, camp, tour and enjoy the National Forest in Red Rock Country.
More than half of these visitors use the local trail system. Soil erosion, user-created trails, inadequate signage and maintenance, and lost visitors are taking a toll on the trail system and the community resources that support it.
Sedona Fire Marshal Gary Johnson recently stated "... that trail user incidents are very labor intensive and time consuming. In many cases these types of incidents involve multiple fire, Emergency Medical Services and law enforcement agencies."
The "silver lining" is that this community is aware and taking action through a collaborative effort that addresses these concerns and others voiced by Forest Land users.
The Collaborators are the Coconino National Forest Red Rock Ranger District, the City of Sedona, International Mountain Bike Association, the Big Park Regional Coordinating Council (BPRCC), Business Owners including Bike Shop Owners, Hiking Clubs, Equestrians and trail users from throughout the area.
"The ultimate purpose of the meetings is to develop a strategy that will set trail construction and maintenance priorities for the next 10 years or so."
~Jennifer Burns, USFS Recreation Officer
Meetings convened in October 2012 and have continued monthly with small work groups breaking out to address particular issues. The last three meetings involved actual maps depicting System Trails and user-created trails with participants detailing which trails and why should be incorporated into the existing system.
Connectors, loops, hubs, trailheads, access points, signage and safety were all part of the comments and mapping process. It is clear that some people believe there are plenty of trails already, and other participants want substantially more trail mileage added to the official trail system.
Sometimes contentious, each meeting has moved toward a conclusion to bring to decision-makers in the USFS who will ultimately decide what will be done about trails on the Red Rock Ranger District. That such effort has been made by our neighbors to pull in as much public comment and support is commendable.
About 100 people have made the commitment to attend and work on the project for the one year duration of this fact-finding process. It is a very vocal, focused group. While emotions run high and some issues seem polarized at times, many small discussions between varieties of users have yielded pure gold in ideas and consideration of other's needs.
Paul Sullivan, BPRCC Liaison to the USFS, and a regular participant in the planning meetings said, "All the user groups realize that the Forest Service has neither the funds nor the manpower to get everything they want but by working together we can develop a comprehensive long term plan that will benefit everybody."
Bike shop owners have put forth a reasonable idea that would create "safe" zones with a special trail coating for people with disabilities, families with small children, wheelchairs and people recovering from surgery or health issues trying to get back on the trails.
Dispersing trail-users to less used, but equally beautiful System Trails is a frequent suggestion. Many have proposed better public awareness of "trail etiquette" for all users when approaching horses, hikers or cyclists.
A model program from Prescott for trails collaboration has also been presented and will be explored for the Sedona area.
For more information about the meetings and the process go to: www.vvcc.us or http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/coconino/landmanagement/planning